Everything You Need to Know About the First Phase of Elections: Day One

On the eve of Egypt’s first parliamentary elections in three years, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on Egyptians to vote. “Line up in front of polling stations and plant with your votes the hope for a bright tomorrow for our new Egypt,” Sisi said. The elections mark the last step in Egypt’s roadmap announced following the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi. Sisi said he hoped that Egyptian youth, “the main driving engine” of Egypt, would be at the front of the lines at polling stations. “I am expecting Egyptian youth to be the driving force in this celebration of democracy,” he stated. He also asked Egyptian women, who he called “the national icon of sacrifice,” to cast their ballots. However, as voting commenced, it became clear that the lines for polling stations Sisi had hoped for were absent, and that youth had not turned out in large numbers. 

Voting in the first phase took place in West Delta (Marsa Matrouh, Alexandria, and Beheria), where the lists contesting the elections were Fi Hob Misr (For the Love of Egypt), the Nour Party, the Egyptian Front and Independent Current, and Forsan Misr (Knights of Egypt.) It also took place in North, Middle, and South of Upper Egypt (Giza, Minya, Beni Suef, Fayoum, Assiut, New Valley, Sohag, Luxor, Red Sea, Qena and Aswan.) where the lists contesting elections were Fi Hob Misr, Nedaa Misr (Egypt’s Call), and Sahwa Wataneya (National Reawakening.)

Voter Turnout

Turnout was low on the day one of the first phase of voting. Initial reports quoted the High Elections Committee (HEC) as saying, by midday Sunday, turnout stood at only 1.19 percent out of 27 million registered voters. Local Development Minister Ahmed Zaki Badr said that the rate stood at only 7 percent at some polling stations. Official HEC spokesperson Omar Marwan said the first day of voting had gone smoothly and denied any official percentages on turnout on Sunday and criticized local media outlets that reported turnout rates of 1 or 2 percent. “Those percentages are false and some media outlets reported our samples as the [actual] turnout,” he said in a press conference. Later, the HEC announced that the number of voters that had cast their ballots electronically reached 2.27 percent of all registered voters. The HEC said it would not release official turnout statistics until the end of voting on Monday evening.

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said turnout on the first day of voting on Sunday was about 15 or 16 percent. According to DNE, most governorates reported turnout of about 10 to 15 percent. Director of the Operations Rooms in Governorates Gamal Barakat told DNE, “The turnout of voters was much lower than usual, but is expected to increase.” The Maat Foundation’s International Observer Mission said that voter turnout was lower than average in all constituencies covered by the mission’s observers. The Free Egyptians Party reported that turnout in on Sunday was “below average.” The Egyptian Socialist Party stressed the “national duty to vote,” calling on Egyptians to cast their ballots in order to “not leave the political scene from hands of Mubarak-era figures and Islamists.” 

HEC Spokesperson Omar Marwan said the age group most represented among voters was 60 years old or older, and that 18 to 21 year olds were the least represented among voters. By noon on Sunday, 7,225 of those that had voted were over 61 years old, while on 263 youth between the ages of 18 and 21 had voted. Marwan added that the number of female voters was four times the number of male voters. 

BBC reporter Sally Nabil said most voters she observed were above the age of 40, and that she saw no long queues or crowded polling stations. Nabil also said that youth were “not present at all” at the polling stations. Reuters compared the turnout with that of the 2011-12 parliamentary elections, which witnessed “long lines and youthful enthusiasm.” 

The HEC also said there would be a EGP 500 fine for voters that failed to cast their ballots. HEC Head and President of the Cairo Appeals Court Ayman Abbas said the fine applies to registered voters who fail to vote. In past elections, the HEC has made similar pronouncements, but the fine has never been enforced.  

Some experts sought to downplay the low turnout. Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies researcher Yosry al-Azabawy told Ahram Online that although the turnout was low, it was too early to judge the wider turnout of the elections. “We must not generalize, not before the run-offs and the second stage of elections. A larger segment of Egyptians will vote in the second stage.”

Apathy, Confusion, and Boycotts

The New York Times reported on voter apathy regarding the elections, especially among youth. One young woman who said she was not voting lamented, “Everyone is lying to everyone.” Another young woman said she felt “suffocated” by politics. One young candidate Ahmed Ali explained that “There is a sense of political exhaustion.” The Associated Press also reported on voter apathy. Two government workers outside a polling station said they were only voting because they had received time off work. “People have never elected anyone that did anything for them,” they said. “The question should not be ‘why are they not voting?’ It should be ‘why should they vote?’”

Reuters reported Egyptian accountant Ahmed Ibrahim as saying, “The youth in Egypt, our ambition in 2011, we were going to build the country—but then suddenly it was stolen from us. 99 percent of my friends are not going to vote.” Youth activists also expressed disillusionment. “We are not even actively boycotting. We simply don’t care,” said Mohamed Nabil, a member of the now banned April 6, one of the youth protest movements that played a large role in the 2011 revolution. Twitter users also started an #instead_of_voting hashtag, where they suggested things to do instead of going to the polls. 

Spokesman for the Democratic Current Coalition Khaled Dawoud explained that many young voters feel apathetic because the election results seem predetermined. “Most young people that I speak to have this impression that the results are known in advance in terms of having the parliament that’s mostly in support of President Sisi,” he said.  “Young people do not feel that we are about to witness true diverse elections in which people are competing against each other over programs or over ideas and legislation.”

According to Reuters, many in the Islamist stronghold of Kerdasa boycotted the elections. One resident explained his position, saying, “The regime’s vision will be carried out whatever happens.” Few of the people interviewed by Ahram Online said they were interested in voting. In Fayoum, most people spoke about elections with “unmasked disinterest.” AFP said that “voters appear to have shunned” the elections.  In a statement on Sunday, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) said that polling was characterized by “quietness.”

Some who did vote seemed to do so without any strong convictions. One voter said, “I voted for Sisi and I am now voting for the people I am told are with him. It makes sense, right?” Others spoke about their votes as their way of supporting President Sisi. “Sisi is our soul … without him we would have been migrants like those from other countries around us,” said one female voter after casting her ballot.

A caller, who says she voted for Sisi in the presidential elections, tells Amr Adib why she is not going to vote in the parliamentary elections. 

There were also reports that voters lacked knowledge of the candidates. “While the majority of the voters know their candidates of choice, some don’t have a clue,” a judge told DNE.  Another judge at a voting station in a school said, “Many of the voters are illiterate. I noticed that they came accompanied by a son and daughter or younger relatives who are supposed to read the voting cards for them.” He said that some voters, especially elderly voters, were confused and did not know who to vote for.  As a result, some randomly chose candidates. One medical student told CNN he “only knew that there were elections a week ago.” He said he didn’t know any of the candidates. Another voter said he voted for candidates he didn’t know anything about because he was afraid of being fined for not voting. According to independent polling organization, Baseera Center, 40 percent of voters polled on Sunday did not recognize any of the candidates’ names in their constituency, and 60 percent recognized at least one name. 

However, one government employee working at a polling station said many women arrived at the station before it opened. “I think the women I met this morning were housewives, but they had their IDs in hands and a list of candidates. I believe they knew what they were doing,” she said.

Reactions to Turnout 

Sisi supporter and talk show host Ahmed Moussa blamed the government for the weak turnout. “If the government maintains this performance, it should leave with all its ministers and let the president select a new one that better addresses people’s needs,” he said. Talk show host Ibrahim Eissa suggested that the low turnout indicated of Egyptians’ lost confidence in Sisi and his credibility. “We are back to the old, pre-January [2011] scene, when people saw no point in elections, parliament or democracy,” Eissa wrote on the front page of the daily Al-Maqal. “This will take us to where it took the old [Mubarak] regime. Anyone who cannot see that is, without an iota of hesitation, blind.”

Violations and Complaints

A total of 256 irregularities were reported to the HEC on the first day of voting, mostly regarding delays in the opening of polling stations, according to The Cairo Post. It also reported that some judges received assassination threats warning them not to monitor the election process. A total of 100 judges from the Administrative Prosecution were commissioned to monitor the elections.

Head of the Judges Club Abdallah Fathi, said in a statement on Sunday that judges supervising the polling stations reported “no violations, no breaches, no quarrels and no voters.” Head of the Egyptian Coalition to Monitor Elections Ahmed Abdel Hafiz said that there had been “minor violations,” that did not affect the electoral process. 

Last week, the HEC warned against violations of the electoral silence period, which began on Friday at noon. Deputy Giza Governor Alaa El-Harras told state news agency MENA that an operation room was established in every district in the governorate to remove any form of electoral campaigning from the streets. However, DNE reported that candidates and political parties violated the electoral silence period on their Facebook pages and social media networks. DNE said that posters for candidates with their pictures and electoral program were being shared on social media by official accounts of candidates and parties. Representative of the National Council of Human Rights (NCHR) at the HEC Amgad Fathy told DNE that the HEC Media Committee does not monitor online social networks, only television and radio stations, because it is impossible to control campaigning on online media. 

The NCHR reported widespread campaign violations and complaints in its official statements, including incidents of campaigning outside polling stations and attempts to influence voters. Alexandria Governor Hany al-Messiry said governorate officials had removed all campaigning material from around the polling stations, but that some candidates put material back up again.   

Several parties committed campaign violations, according to DNE. In Qena, the Nour Party used a megaphone in a mosque to campaign for its candidates. In Giza, a candidate from the Free Egyptians Party (FEP) used cars to campaign for himself in front of polling stations. In Minya, a candidate distributed meat and blankets among the voters in front of a polling station. 

Administrative errors also occurred. In Alexandria at Burg al-Arab, a candidate’s number on the electoral list was changed due to the withdrawal of another candidate. The candidate was not notified of the change, and she filed a complaint to the HEC that is being investigated. In one incident in Fayoum, a judge halted voting after a woman wearing a veil that covered her face insulted him when he refused to allow her to vote unless she revealed her face to confirm her identity. The judge put the voting process on hold until the police arrived to document the incident.

Political parties also exchanged accusations of electoral violations amongst themselves. The Free Egyptians Party (FEP) said its representatives were assaulted by a rival candidate in Upper Egypt, and that sixteen of its candidates were prevented from entering polling stations. FEP also reported on violations of the electoral silence. The party said it found forty-two incidents of flyer distribution in polling stations, promotional t-shirts, advertisements on transportation, and bribes. The FEP accused the Nour Party of committing most of these violations. FEP founder Naguib Sawiris, filed a complaint on Sunday accusing the Nour Party and its spokesman Nader Bakkar of defamation. The Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) also said that the For the Love of Egypt list had illegally promoted its candidates in polling stations. The ESDP also accused the FEP, Misr Biladi, and the Nour Party of electoral violations. 

The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) documented several violations on Sunday, as did and Aswat Masriya. Violations included the mobilization of voters, attempts to influence voters’ choices, violations of electoral silence, vote-buying, the exploitation of children for campaigning purposes, and the early closure of some polling stations. 

Aswat Masriya reported that female candidates running independently faced obstacles during campaigning, including electoral violations. A candidate in Daqahliya said that her rivals used bribes to buy votes. She also complained of “thugs” tearing down her banners and spreading rumors that she belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood. Another candidate in Giza complained that her rivals tore down her banners and covered them up. She also reported instances of vote buying. One prominent female candidate activist, Samira Ibrahim, is known for filing a lawsuit against a military doctor that subjected her to a virginity test in March 2011 after she was detained following a violent dispersal of a sit-in in Tahrir Square. She is running as an independent candidate in Sohag. 

The National Council for Women also issued a statement saying that council representatives would be at polling stations to detect violations against female voters. In addition, women and children were reported as wearing t-shirts depicting certain candidates in Giza, Alexandria, and Minya.

Security and Violence

On Friday, the Interior Ministry said that some 120,000 policemen and central security forces would be deployed to 18,945 polling stations, in addition to 185,000 army personnel. Al Masry Al Youm reported that the army and police forces deployed more than 400,000 troops to secure the elections. 

The highest number of military forces were in the governorates of Giza, Fayoum, Beni Suef, and Minya. The Ministry of Defense said on Friday that elections security will also include aerial surveillance, in order to receive live updates and reports on incidents that might disrupt the voting process. The Egyptian Air Force was responsible for transporting the 1,100 judges who administered the elections using military planes to “guarantee their safety.” According to the Ministry of Interior, the Central Security Forces were equipped with armed weapons, birdshot, and tear gas.

DNE reported that most polling stations had a greater military presence than police, with an average of six to eight security personnel per polling location. Military helicopters were also present.  

A drive by shooting occurred on Sunday when unidentified assailants opened fire at security forces deployed at a polling station in Al-Ayat, Giza, who fired back. The gunmen escaped, however according to A-Ahram no injuries were reported. The Interior Ministry said the incident was unrelated to the electoral process and was due to a dispute involving a tuk-tuk owner. Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi and Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Gaffar visited a number of polling stations in Giza and praised measures taken by security forces deployed at polling stations.

In another incident, a small bomb was defused near a polling station in Fayoum in Upper Egypt, according to state-owned news agency MENA. No casualties were reported. 

Reuters reported that a sound bomb exploded on Sunday near the polls in Kerdasa. It was not clear who was responsible for the blast. DNE reported that two sound bombs went off in Kerdasa. 

The NCHR also documented minor clashes throughout the country during the first day of voting. It said that eleven individuals were injured in scuffles around polling stations. According to EOHR, police and military forces intervened in Fayoum after a fight broke out between rival campaigns. Violence was also reported at polling stations in Assiut and Minya.

As voting came to an end on Sunday, clashes broke out between supporters of rival in Qena. According to Mada Masr, the candidate themselves intervened to break up the fighting. Security forces had to disperse another fight between several candidates in the Qena district of Deshna.

Several injuries occurred during the voting process. The Ministry of Health said that forty-five people fainted on the first day of voting on Sunday. One individual, a school principal in Beheira, went into cardiac arrest on Sunday and died while monitoring the voting process. The Ministry said there were about 3,000 ambulances across Egypt in case of emergencies.


On Friday, Democracy International (DI) said it would not be able to “conduct the comprehensive observation mission earlier envisioned.” DI had been accredited by the HEC to observe the polls but said that “some visas for accredited core team members and short-term observers have not been issued and most visas have not been issued for the duration necessary to observe the entire election process.” 

In an official statement, EOHR reported that judges were largely absent from polling stations on Sunday morning, and that some polling stations remained closed by 11:00 am. 

The NCHR stated it had monitored 108 complaints and referred forty-eight to the HEC on Sunday. Most of the complaints were related to late opening of polling stations, violations of the election silence period, and the purchasing of votes. The council also documented complaints regarding lack of facilities for voters with disabilities. 

The Maat Foundation said that security procedures were effective throughout the voting process and that public officials displayed “neutrality” in most cases.

The Journalists Against Torture Observatory documented twelve violations against journalists on the first day of elections, most of which occurred in Giza. Security forces were responsible for most of the violations.

On Sunday, the Arab League praised the efforts made by the Egyptian army and police to secure polling stations. A 100 member mission from the Arab league monitored eleven out of fourteen governorates in the first phase of the elections. It will send two reports to the HEC and the League’s Secretary General on the electoral process. However, the mission also criticized the fact that a number of observers were barred from entering polling stations in Alexandria and Giza, according to Mada Masr. The polling stations claimed they hadn’t received orders to allow monitors to enter. The Arab League said it was planning to file a complaint with the HEC.


Leading up to the elections, religious scholars debated the religious legality of boycotting the elections. The elections also ignited conflict among Islamist movements. Some Muslim Brotherhood leaders have issued fatwas declaring that the participation in the elections is forbidden and criticized the Nour Party’s decision to participate. Meanwhile, the Salafist call, the religious arm of the Nour Party, said it supports the right of citizens to participate. Dar al-Ifta, the country’s highest religious authority, had also issued a statement saying that boycotting the elections was a sin. 

AP reported that speeches by Nour Party candidates at a rally last week ahead of the elections hardly referred to religion. Rather, the party focused on emphasizing “progress, education, development, [and] health care.” However, the party’s efforts to strike a balance between religion and politics could prove confusing for voters. During the rally, attendees chanted “Egypt is an Islamic country.” Also during the rally, party supporters chanted “Long Live Egypt,” President Sisi’s campaign slogan from the 2015 presidential election. Analysts told AP that the party may be overextending itself by seeking to connect to a disparate electorate. 

Mina Fahmi and Raguei Fouad, two Coptic Christians running in the elections, said they were not focusing their campaigns on Coptic rights. “I am not running as a representative of the Copts I am trying to represent in parliament. I am running to be an MP who would be there for all members of his constituency and for all Egyptians in general,” Fahmi said. 

Expat Voting

Egyptians abroad cast their ballots on Saturday and Sunday in 139 consulates and embassies around the world. Aswat Masriya reported that only five people had turned up to vote in Brussels by noon on Sunday. He added that a dozen people had voted on Saturday in Belgium, which hosts 296 eligible voters.  

The Egyptian Ambassador in Saudi Arabia said less people turned out on Sunday morning than on Saturday morning to vote. Ambassador to Kuwait Yasser Atef said voters were confused about who to vote for and that they lacked knowledge about the candidates. On Sunday, he said the turnout rate was lower than but added that he expected more people to vote later in the day. On Sunday evening, HEC Spokesperson Marwan said that a technical issue in the servers in Kuwait led to the obstruction of the electoral process for “ten minutes, then it was fixed.” DNE reported that Kuwait extended voting due to low turnout. Ambassador Yasser Atef said voters were confused about who to vote for and that they lacked knowledge about the candidates. 

In Algeria, Ambassador Omar Abou Eish said that only thirty voters participated in the elections. One problem voters faced was the distance between polling stations. 

Assistant Foreign Minister Hamdy Loza said he was coordinating with the HEC to look into any complaints related to voting abroad. He said that so far voting abroad had occurred “quietly” and “without any obstacles.” On Saturday, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry issued orders to remove all “obstacles” to voting and called for assistance to be provided to those with special needs and the elderly. 

Disqualified Candidates

On Sunday, Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court postponed a challenge filed by belly dancer Sama al-Masry regarding her disqualification from running in the elections. Masry’a appeal was postponed to October 25. Masry was banned from running in the elections after the HEC stated that she lacked the “qualities and good reputation” to run for parliament. The HEC added that they found her values and ethics to be “questionable.”

Elissa Miller is a Program Assistant at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East

Image: Photo: A security man helps an elderly voter during the first phase of the parliamentary elections at a polling station in Giza governorate, Egypt, October 18, 2015. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)